Dad wouldn’t even let us turn down the corners of books, we always had to use a bookmark and never left them open face down. Respect, he said. And I respected.
But making notes in books, a habit I picked up at university, has acted like a diary for me. Looking back through my copy of Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian brings back the sounds of the campus library, the smells (and stains) of The Royal Tandoori, and long-forgotten opinions I once held on Shane from Neighbours.
I have a falling-to-bits, but precious paperback of The Grapes of Wrath, containing all kinds of pretentious 20-something thought-notes and, I was delighted to discover, a flyer for Cardiff band, The Grapes of Roath.
And as I began to pay more attention to the craft that goes into writing, I annotated and scribbled and stuck Post-Its (yes, they’d been invented by then) all over Kate Atkinson, Brian Moore, Sarah Waters and Iain Banks. Or more commonly, their books.
Similarly, I feel a sense of illicit privilege on coming across a tatty paperback in a second-hand bookshop, at a knock-down price because it has been ‘defaced’. Although I’d be happy to pay more for a tome in which the previous owner has added forthright comments, underlinings, references to other works or tangential whimsy.
Which is why I’m tempted to fly to Texas.
David Foster Wallace’s wit and intelligence, use of observational asides and footnotes, makes reading books such as A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, a far more intriguing journey than the Caribbean cruise which inspired this collection of essays.
He’s funny. He’s erudite. And I’m desperate to see what he has to say about Delillo, McCarthy and Updike.
The Harry Ransom Center is on my wish list.